Fraternal similitude is a difficult thing to predict in football. For every pair of brothers like Kolo and Yaya Touré or Gabriel and Diego Milito playing at the very highest level, there’s a John and Paul Terry (currently at Rushden and Diamonds) or a Ryan and Rhodri Giggs (last seen playing for Bacup Borough in the North West Counties Football League Premier Division).
It is for this very reason that Barcelona have reason to be cautious about the development of Jonathan dos Santos. The teenager is the younger brother of Giovani dos Santos, who came to prominence with great fanfare in the 2007-08 season before surprisingly being shipped to Tottenham Hotspur for an initial fee of £4.7 million in the summer of 2008. The star of the Mexico side that won the 2005 Under-17 World Cup in Peru failed to make an impact at Spurs following Harry Redknapp’s arrival at the club and spent the last two months of the 2008-09 season at Championship side Ipswich Town. In January he joined Turkish giants Galatasaray on another loan deal, linking up with Frank Rijkaard, the man who gave him his chance at Barcelona.
At 20, Giovani dos Santos still has his whole career ahead of him, but it is undeniable that he has lost his way since leaving Catalonia. Heralded as the Mexican Ronaldinho when he first emerged on the scene in late 2007, he appeared to possess all the tools to become a world-class attacking player. Somewhere along the line, something went awry and it can only be hoped that in Turkey he rediscovers the form that made him such a tremendously exciting prospect.
Jonathan, a year younger than his brother, is a very different player. Where Giovani is all fizz and all left foot, Jonathan is more patient in his approach and habitually operates in a deeper, more central role. If Giovani was supposed to be the next Ronaldinho, Jonathan appears to have based his game upon the studious passing of Xavi. Slightly stockier than his elder sibling and also predominantly right-footed, he is a thoughtful passer and a fine striker of the ball.
“I consider myself an attacking midfielder; a player who can get on the ball and get the team moving,” he says. “My principal strengths are my passing and my directing of the play.”
The son of Brazilian footballer Zizinho, Jonathan joined Barcelona’s academy at the same time as Giovani, in 2002, after they were reportedly spotted at a youth tournament in France. He made his senior bow on last summer’s pre-season tour of England and has since made a handful of first-team appearances, notably starting the 1-1 draw at home to Villarreal on January 2.
He made his Mexico debut before he had played a competitive game for Barça, in the 2-1 friendly defeat to Colombia last September. He also played in the friendly against New Zealand earlier this month, starting alongside Giovani in a 2-0 victory at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
“Since we were little, we’ve been playing together,” said Jonathan of his elder brother. “As we got older, our dream became to play with one another on the national team.” That dream is now a reality, while Giovani’s superb showing in Mexico’s CONCACAF Gold Cup triumph last summer proved that he remains an important player for his country. He has also featured in every Galatasaray match since his arrival in Istanbul.
Jonathan, meanwhile, completed his first 90 minutes for the national side as the sole non-Mexico-based member of an inexperienced team that beat North Korea 2-1 in Torreón on Wednesday. Their paths may have diverged of late, and there are still plenty of obstacles for both to overcome, but the dos Santos brothers are firmly on track for South Africa.